Posts Tagged ‘glad day bookshop’
blogTO’s Phil Villeneuve shares the story of Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop, the oldest GLBT library in the world still operating.
Very few book stores in the world have been fought off widespread hate, battled censorship at the Supreme Court, and acted as home base for an entire community of people. Toronto’s Glad Day bookshop has, which is why it’s even more special that it’s not only Toronto’s oldest bookstore, but the world’s oldest LGBT bookstore.
Glad Day took the title after New York’s Oscar Wilde bookstore closed in 2009 because of low sales and high rent. That shop opened in 1967.
Glad Day was opened in 1970 by Jearld Moldenhauer out of his home in the Annex. The residential space also doubled as the office for The Body Politic, a gay and lesbian political paper, which eventually morphed into Xtra and then to the now online-only DailyXtra.com.
After folks moved in and out of the home, Moldenhauer and a group men bought a place in Cabbagetown at 138 Seaton Street and operated the shop out of there.
It was a time when a gay and lesbian bookstore could exist out of someone’s living room and word spread wide enough for the city’s queer population to know exactly where to go — all very much on the down low and in fear of violence.
This sandwich board on Church Street outside the door of Glad Day Bookshop cheered me up last week. Since its move to the heart of Church and Wellesley, I’ve been trying to go to Glad Day as often as I can. It’s a good bookshop and a great space. Plus, who doesn’t like a bookshop where you can get pints?
I yesterday roused myself from home to visit Glad Day Bookshop on the final day of the store’s existence at its 598A Yonge Street location. It will be reopening early next week at a new, more accessible and more flexible, location on Church Street. Even so, it was the end of an era: I had to stop by.
I learned of the existence of Les Mouches Fantastiques, a zine published in Montréal between 1918 and 1920 that was about as out and proud as a zine could be at that time, via a column last year by Daily Xtra‘s historian Michael Lyons.
In the autumn of 1917, a young woman named Elsie Alice Gidlow (later known as Elsa) was living with her large family in Montreal. She made a meagre living doing office work but longed for travel and the bohemian life. She published a letter in the Montreal Daily Star under a pseudonym, asking if there were any organizations of artists or writers in the city. A second letter published under her own name appeared a couple of weeks later, suggesting that the original inquirer (herself) and others interested should meet at her apartment.
Only a few among the motley crew had any real promise. Most of the men who showed up were middle-aged and looking to pick up, given the female name signed with the second letter, and left disappointed. The only man who really stood out to Gidlow was the “most astonishing, elegant being . . . a beautiful, willowy blond” named Roswell George Mills, a financial-page editor at the Star who also wrote a pseudonymous female advice column — possibly Jessie Roberts’s What Girls May Do.
Mills was unabashedly, flamboyantly homosexual. “Roswell confided his personal crusade to me,” Gidlow wrote in her autobiography. “He wanted people to understand that it was beautiful, not evil, to love others of one’s own sex and make love with them. Roswell had divined my lesbian temperament and was happy to proselytize; the veil of self-ignorance began to lift.” Mills introduced her to the work of Oscar Wilde, Edward Carpenter, Verlaine and modern psychologists who described homosexuality in more concrete medical — rather than condemnatory moralistic — terms. She built on his reading list and began to find her own authors to venerate. He nicknamed her Sappho, and they became lifelong friends.
Early in their writing careers, Gidlow and Mills were very involved in the amateur journalist community in North America, a loose network of organizations and self-publishers. Canada was well into a bloody war, which Mills had escaped as a 4F — “physically, mentally, emotionally and morally incompetent for the glory of killing,” he said — and this, along with their sexual radicalism and their weakening tolerance for Christian patriarchy, coalesced into Les Mouches Fantastiques (originally titled Coal from Hades).
The publication consisted mostly of poetry by Gidlow about women, with translations, allegorical stories, dramatic writing and “articles on ‘the intermediate sex’” by Mills, as well as contributions that satirized society or panned the ongoing war. Gidlow assumed the publication went out to only a hundred of their fellow underground writers, but she eventually received a letter from a woman in Havana who was impressed with the work. [Graeme Davis, a] priest and writer from South Dakota read Les Mouches, fell in love with Mills and moved to Montreal in the hopes of being with him.
There is a fair bit about Elsie Gidlow, a pioneering lesbian writer who made her life and loves in the United States. The author who got her start in Les Mouches Fantastiques with her poem “To Regina” achieved some kind of fulfillment.
There is rather less known about Roswell George Mills. We know some of his relationships, we know that he spent part of his life in Berlin before the rise of the Nazis and that he spent most of his life in New York City as a freelance journalist, but we know little of Mills’ interior life. We know surprisingly little about the man who may well be the first out gay man in Canada.
Mills’ life, and that of his lover Davis, was brought to life for Nuit Rose by Jeffrey Canton and Marcus Peterson in the cellar of Glad Day Bookshop on Yonge. In Coals of Hades, Canton as Davis and Peterson as Mills enacted an imaginary exchange of letters between the two in the early 1940s before the United States got involved in the Second World War. They remember their life together in Montréal, they talked about their very experiences as gay men–Davis the older, Mills the more cosmopolitan–and each wonders what went wrong. How did the promise of Les Mouches Fantastiques, the printed imagining of the possibility that being gay was not wrong, fail to come about?
Canton and Peterson’s performances were good, one character’s letter smoothly following another. Coal from Hades had been presented before at the Toronto Storytellling Festival, but the two men are clearly practiced and skilled performers. The story that they told together was a powerful one, one that has preoccupied me a bit over the past month. Why did it take so long for gay rights to take off as a movement? Was there any hope? Could the bravery of Les Mouches Fantastiques have seen some fulfillment earlier in the 20th century? Coal from Hades has made me think a lot about the issues it explores, and I’m grateful to it for that.
News of the Glad Day Bookshop‘s impending move to Church Street has spread widely, to Canada’s Quill & Quire and to international sites like Gay Star News and New Now Next. I first learned of this from Daily Xtra.
Glad Day Bookshop is moving from a cramped, albeit charming, second-floor on Yonge Street to a massive ground-floor in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village — the space currently occupied by Byzantium, a martini bar and restaurant.
“The location and facility we’ve secured is what’s currently known as Byzantium, at 499 Church St,” says Michael Erickson, one of the owners of Glad Day, the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore. “We’re taking over the space, the lease, the liquor licenses, the equipment.”
“Byzantium in its current form is closing.”
At 250 square metres, the new location is more than three times larger than the current Yonge space. It also boasts a back patio, bar, large storage area downstairs and is wheelchair accessible. Erickson plans to install a wheelchair-accessible washroom as well.
The owners hope the larger, more versatile venue will allow them to incorporate several new revenue streams. “We’ll be re-opening as a bookstore-coffee shop-cocktail bar,” Erickson says. The current plan is to have the business operate as a coffee shop and bookstore during the day, and a bar and performance space at night. It may even become a boardgame café a few days a week.
People can donate to the bookstore to finance the move here.
This is big. I sincerely hope it works out–I think it can, but still, I need to hope. I think it not inaccurate to say that not only the future of Glad Day, but the future of Church Street as a gay area, depends on this working out.
Lisa Cumming’s Torontoist article “Why is Toronto’s Oldest Bookstore Leaving Yonge Street?” let me know of something unexpected. I only hope this move is workable.
It has been a staple of Toronto for decades, its pink-and-purple storefront and giant rainbow flag waving over Yonge. Now, thirty-five years since opening its second-floor Yonge and Wellesley location, Glad Day Bookshop is about to leave its post.
But fear not, readers of Toronto: the shop—which is both the city’s oldest bookstore, and the world’s oldest LGBTQ shop—is not closing. Instead, owner Michael Erickson tells Torontoist the company is planning a little-big move to the beating heart of the Church-Wellesley Village.
“For some people there’s a lot of nostalgia attached to the location, but the store was also always supposed to be pushing boundaries; being a part of the queer liberation and sexual liberation movement in 2016 means being wheelchair accessible,” says Erickson, lead owner at Glad Day. “That means not hiding up in the shadows, that means being on the street and that means taking up public space. I think it’s a natural transition to [be] taking up more space somewhere else, and I think that the community will follow us.”
On May 31, Glad Day sent out a survey letting book lovers know that the shop was planning a move, and asked clients to suggest new locations. The results of the survey were very clear, Erickson says: people overwhelmingly wanted Glad Day to either move to Church Street, or stay where they are.
But Yonge Street is no longer a viable option for the grassroots shop, where its current location is small and cramped, and not accessible for those with issues with mobility or disabilities.